A Guide to the Rare and Unusual on TCM
By Ed Garea
STARS OF THE MONTH: PIN-UP GIRLS
June 16: A mixed evening begins at 8:00 pm with the tepid Cary Grant-Jayne Mansfield vehicle, Kiss Them For Me (Fox, 1957). Following at 10:00 pm is the celebrated Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (Fox, 1953), directed by Howard Hawks and starring Jane Russell and Marilyn Monroe at their gold-digging best. At 11:45, it’s Mamie Van Doren kicking loose in the psychotronic classic, Youth Runs Wild (WB, 1957). At 1:15 am, we find George Gobel co-starring with the beautiful Diana Dors in the failed I Married a Woman (Universal, 1958). At 2:45 am, it’s Bait from Columbia and anti-auteur Hugo Haas, starring Haas and Cleo Moore, in 1954 (See Below). Finally, at 4:15 am, it’s Brigitte Bardot in the role that made her famous, And God Created Woman (Cocinor, 1956).
June 24: We’re now into the ‘60s and ‘70s and begin at 8:00 pm with Raquel Welch in the caveman epic, One Million Years B.C. (Hammer, 1966). At 10:00 pm, Ursula Andress stars in the remake of H. Rider Haggard’s She (Hammer/MGM, 1965). At midnight, Farrah Fawcett has a supporting role in MGM’s disappointing 1975 sci-fi tale, Logan’s Run. Following at 2:15 am, it’s Jane Fonda in the sexy Barbarella (Paramount, 1968). And closing out the evening we find Bo Derek in 10 (Orion, 1979) as the girl of Dudley Moore’s dreams.
FRIDAY NIGHT SPOTLIGHT: SUMMER OF DARKNESS
June 19: Our evening of noir begins at 8:00 pm with Anthony Mann’s excellent Hollow Triumph (Eagle-Lion, 1948). Paul Henried shines as a crook on the run posing as a shrink. Joan Bennett co-stars. It’s followed at 9:45 by MGM’s police procedural Mystery Street (1950), starring Ricardo Montalban and Bruce Bennett. At 11:30 Montalban stars again, this time with George Murphy, in Anthony Mann’s harrowing Border Incident (MGM, 1949). At 1:15 am, it’s Spencer Tracy and Pat O’Brien in the disappointing The People Against O’Hara (MGM, 1951). And last, but certainly not least, it’s Michael Caine in the impressive Get Carter (MGM, 1971).
June 26: At 8:00 pm, it’s my pick of the night, The Mask of Dimitrios (WB, 1944). Peter Lorre is a mild-mannered writer after the facts on the life of notorious scoundrel Zachary Scott (in his film debut). Sydney Greenstreet is also on hand to spice things up. Following at 9:45, the interesting Berlin Express (RKO, 1948). Noted pacifist Paul Lukas is kidnapped in Germany by Nazi werewolves and secretary Merle Oberon raises an international team to rescue him. The next two films (11:30 and 1:15) were shown last month in TCM’s Friday Night salute to Orson Welles: The Stranger (RKO, 1946), and The Third Man (London Film, 1949). Closing out the evening is John Boorman’s gangster noir, Point Blank (MGM, 1967), starring Lee Marvin and Angie Dickinson, at 3:00 am.
ANTONIONI - June 21
Question: What happens when one tries to make art? Answer: He fails miserably. A case in point is director Michelangelo Antonioni’s The Red Desert (Rizzoli, 1964), a slow, meandering opus about the wife of a plant manager, played by his muse at the time, Monica Vitti, as she vacillates between sanity and madness. Critic Andrew Sarris referred to Antonioni as “Antoniennui,” “ennui” meaning boredom. The film does have its adherents and can been seen at 2:00 am.
The Antonioni fest continues at 4:00 am with L’Eclisse (Cineriz, 1962), also starring Vitti. She’s a translator, working in Rome, who has recently broken up with her boyfriend. Going downtown one day to see her mother, who is addicted to the stock market, she meets Pieto (Alain Delon), a broker, and they begin a relationship. However, she cannot abide his materialism. To say this is slow moving is an understatement. There are long stretches where no dialogue is passed, just Vitti and Delon looking at each other “meaningfully.” There are also many long scenes of Italian streets. It won’t take long to get the point that life is pretty much meaningless, that we are alienated and thus unable to communicate in a meaningful manner. All that in 126 minutes that only feels as if it’s 10 hours longer. It’s as arty-farty as arty-farty gets.
Another hit or miss director with artistic pretensions is Lindsay Anderson. On June 23, TCM is showing his absurdist musical, O Lucky Man! (WB, 1973). The film is a musical allegory about the trap of capitalism and follows the adventures of a young, ambitious coffee salesman (Malcolm McDowell) assigned to Northern England when the previous salesman suddenly disappears. Supposedly it’s based on the real-life experiences of McDowell when he sold coffee for a living and he began working on the idea as a follow-up to his star-making turn in Anderson’s if…. (1968), which had won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. It opened to middling to negative reviews, as most critics agreed that its goal was beyond its reach. But in recent years it has become something of a cult item. Tune in and judge for yourself.
FRENCH NEW WAVE DOUBLE FEATURE - JUNE 28
Beginning at the usual time of 2:00 am, TCM is airing a double feature by two of the most renowned directors of the French New Wave: Jean-Luc Godard and Francois Truffaut with two of their best films.
Godard leads off with Band of Outsiders (Bande a part, Columbia Films, 1964). It’s a simple plot: Franz and Arthur (Sami Frey and Claude Brasseur), two petty crooks enamored with Hollywood B-crime flicks, meet naïve, young Odile (Anna Karina) in their English language class, to join them in a robbery. They are immediately taken with her and spend their time making passes when not amusing each other with impressions of movie bad guys. When she lets slip that she lives with benefactors in Joinville, and that one of them, a Mr. Stolz, keeps a pile of 10,000 francs unlocked in his room, they pressure her to assist them in a burglary. It’s a wonderfully disjointed film noted especially for its “Madison dance” number. While at a café, the trio suddenly breaks into an impromptu dance by the jukebox. It is an incredibly hypnotic scene and stands up well to repeated viewings; in fact most people I know who have seen it play the dance sequence more than once. Watch their initial joy turn to slight despair, and finally to a sort of alienation as the energy of the dance winds down. And, if it looks familiar, take into account that Quentin Tarantino copied the scene for his Pulp Fiction, as John Travolta and Uma Thurman do their own impromptu dance at a retro burger café to the music of Chuck Berry. But take it from me: Karina, Frey and Brasseur do it better ... much, much better. In a later interview, Godard said that the dance was rehearsed for two weeks, three times each week. As neither Sami nor Claude knew how to dance, they had to invent the steps. Godard said it was a dance with an open, line figure. It’s a parade for the camera, for the audience.
Amazingly, the film was a flop with both critics and public when released. Many accused Godard of selling out, which was sheer nonsense. They failed to realize that what Godard was doing was analogous to Camus taking an ordinary crime novel (it was based on the pulp crime novel Fools’ Gold by Dolores Hitchens) and recasting in his terms, spotlighting the beauty, absurdity, and romance that made his own novels so special. Godard is doing nothing less in this film than taking a noir and recreating it in his own terms, with his own associations and in his own world, turning it into a tragicomedy of sorts with its resultant charm.
Band of Outsiders was filmed in 25 days. Cinematographer Raoul Coutard made stunning use of the wintry, gray skies in the Parisian suburb of Bastille and at deserted points along the Marne River. The result is a bleak, pointless landscape broken only by the exuberance of the leads. It is my favorite Godard film, made back in the days when he was making coherent films and is a perfect stage for the heartbreaking beauty and vulnerability of Karina.
Immediately following at 3:45 am is Truffaut’s Jules and Jim (Cinedis, 1962). Based on the novel of the same name by Henri-Pierre Roche, it’s the story of two college friends (Oskar Warner and Henri Serre) and the beautiful, impulsive woman (Jeanne Moreau) who comes between them. It’s a beautifully told story of three people in love and how that love does not affect their friendship, and how the relationship of the three evolves over the years until its heartbreaking conclusion. My partner, David Skolnick, absolutely loves this movie, even to the point of having the movie’s poster in his office. So for further confirmation of why it is an Essential, look to David’s Best Bets for June 23-30. He’ll have it in there.
PSYCHOTRONICA AND THE B-HIVE
June 17: Hugo Haas finally comes to TCM! Hugo Haas was a successful director/writer with Prague’s National Theater and later in films. The German takeover of his beloved Czechoslovakia forced the Jewish Haas into exile and he landed in America, where he became a moderately successful character actor. Beginning in 1951 he wrote, directed and produced a series of films that can only described as unusual. With lurid titles like Pickup, Thy Neighbor’s Wife, Bait, and The Other Woman, his films tilted toward the sensational, but were ultimately done in by a combination of lousy acting, rotten directing and totally cheesy production values. Each of them can be said to be a riff on The Blue Angel; the typical Haas plot is that of an older, respectable and lonely man who is seduced and ultimately ruined by a much younger trollop. Time has not been kind to Haas. In this electronic age of VHS and DVD, while other anti-auteurs such as Ed Wood, Jr., Roger Corman, Jess Franco, Herschell G Lewis, Doris Wishman, and Al Adamson, Haas has been almost totally neglected. The only critic to cover him was Michael Weldon in The Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film. Now we get a chance to see one of his works, with Bait airing at 2:45 am. An added incentive to watch is that the film also stars that noted thespian, John Agar. For me, Bait will bring back childhood memories, for my mother, sad to admit, was a fan of his films.
June 18: Bugging Out: It’s a night of B-movie monsters, in this case, insects, beginning at 8 pm with The Fly (Fox, 1958). The classic B-monster Mothra follows at 9:45, and then it’s the classic combination of Sci-Fi, noir and Red Scare known as Them! (WB, 1954). At 1:30 am, it’s Roger Corman’s The Wasp Woman (Allied Artists, 1959), the cheesy The Swarm (WB, 1978), and finally the low-budget The Cosmic Monsters (DCA, 1958).
June 20: Tune in for the rarely shown The Face Behind The Mask (Columbia, 1941), starring Peter Lorre as Janos Szabo, a Hungarian immigrant to dreams of a better life while working as a dishwasher until a fire in his rooming house disfigures him. Unable to find work, a chance meeting with criminal George E. Stone gives Lorre a new lease on life, and with the help of a life-like rubber mask, he becomes a master criminal. But his life changes once again when he meets the blind Evelyn Keyes and falls in love, marrying her. Even though it’s an extremely low-budget film, the direction by Robert Florey combined with one of Lorre’s best performances raise this from a mere programmer into a film to see.
June 28: A Godzilla double feature is on tap beginning at 8:00 pm with 1970’s Godzilla vs. Monster Zero. It seems that a new planet, dubbed Planet X, has been discovered in the orbit of Jupiter. Astronauts Nick Adams and Akira Takarada are sent to the planet to check it out. They meet up with the planet’s ruler, the Controller (Yoshio Tsuchiya in a performance for the ages – if you happen to like aged ham). The citizens of Planet X have to live underground because Big Old Nasty Ghidorah, known to the citizens as “Monster Zero” is terrorizing the surface. But if only Nick and Akira will lend the denizens Godzilla and Rodan so they can rid their planet of King Ghidorah, the Controller will eradicate all disease on Earth. And so the deal is made. Suckers! The Contoller’s real plan is to program the monsters to take over the Earth. BWA-HA-HA! And it’s Mothra to the rescue.
Godzilla, King of the Monsters, the 1956 Americanization of the original 1954 Gojira, follows at 10:00 pm. C'mon TCM, quit fooling around and give us the original. You’re done it before, and once one has seen the original, patience with the American adaptation quickly becomes strained. What’s the matter? Afraid we can’t read subtitles?
June 29: Zombies were always a hot item on the horror menu, so why not a zombie comedy? Failing to give us a decent film, RKO instead presented us with 1945’s Zombies on Broadway (12:30 pm), with the inept team of Wally Brown and Alan Carney. The boys are Broadway press agents ordered by their gangster boss (Sheldon Leonard) to produce a real zombie for the grand opening of his new nightclub, “The Zombie Hut.” They journey to the island of San Sebastian where they run into Bela Lugosi, who is just happening to be working on a formula to create – are you ready? – the perfect zombie. And so he does with the help of Alan Carney. If you’re a Lugosi completist, this is for you. If, on the other hand, you’re a Brown and Carney completist – then there is no hope for you.
June 20: In Bomba and the Jungle Girl (1952) we learn something about the origins of Bomba himself. As he searches for his parents he runs across Linda Ward and her father, who help him with the search. Eventually he finds the remains of his parents and learns who murdered them.
June 27: Bomba becomes involved with a group of moviemakers who have arrived in his neck of the woods to make a film about jungle wildlife in Safari Drums (1953), with lots and lots of stock footage.
NEW BATMAN SEQUEL
On June 20, the 1943 Batman serial ends with “Doom of the Rising Sun,” in which the evil Dr. Daka (J. Carroll Naish) gets his, sleeping with the crocodiles. Premiering on June 27 will be Columbia’s Batman and Robin (1949), in which the Dynamic Duo face off against the Wizard (Leonard Pewnn), a hooded villain with an electrical device which controls cars and a desire to set challenges for the duo. This time around it’s Robert Lowery as the Caped Crusader, with Johnny Duncan play the Boy Wonder. The supporting cast is also expanded, with Jane Adams (House of Dracula) as reporter Vicki Vale and the great Lyle Talbot as Commissioner Gordon. In fact, the serial is worth seeing for Talbot alone. As it was produced by “Jungle “Sam Katzman, don’t look for any added extras. In fact cheapo Sam didn’t even give them a Batmobile, they had to rely on a 1949 Mercury to get around.